Apocalypse is not today: How and when humanity will die out

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists are seriously exploring the possibility of a global catastrophe that could destroy humanity. About the most likely scenarios and whether they should be feared.

“Garbage in, garbage out”

Supercomputer predictions that by 2050 the “end of the world” will come. In fact, we are talking about a forecast half a century ago, although in the British tabloid , which served as the source of the reprints, this was presented as news.

In 2018, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) took out of the archives and posted on YouTube a November 1973 video about the World 1 computer program (“World-1”), created by systems scientist Jay Forrester from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It follows from the off-screen text that the most modern computer technology at that time (which by today’s standards cannot be called a supercomputer) does not see anything good in our future.

“By 2020, the planet will be in critical condition,” the report said. “If nothing is done about it, the quality of life will drop to zero. Pollution will become so serious that it will start killing people. This will reduce the population to below 1900 levels “From 2040 to 2050, civilized life as we know it will cease to exist.”

The Australian television story was, to put it mildly, inaccurate and exaggerated.

The document was prepared by a group led by American scientist Dennis Meadows. Based on the developments of Jay Forrester, he created the World 3 model (“Mir-3”). As the title suggested, the task was to determine the limits of human population growth and the economic development of the planet.

The program took into account several key indicators: non-renewable resources, industrial and agricultural capital, service sector capital, free land, farmland, urban and industrial development, non-removable pollutants, population.

As a result, we received 12 scenarios for the development of events. Of these, five, including the base one, predicted an increase in the world’s population to ten to twelve billion people, and then a sharp decline to one to three billion with a significant decrease in living standards.

The rest of the options were divided into “favorable” (suggested, in particular, mild birth control) and “less favorable.” None of them led to the “end of civilization” or the “extinction of mankind.”

Immediately after the release, the report was heavily criticized. The Limits to Growth, in our opinion, is an empty and misleading work.

Its formidable apparatus of computer technology and systemic jargon takes arbitrary assumptions, shakes them up, and draws arbitrary conclusions that seem scientific,” wrote The New York Times in April 1972.

The authors of the article added: “The Limits to Growth” is best described not as a rediscovery of the laws of nature, but as a rediscovery of the oldest principle of computer science: “Garbage in, garbage out.”
Nevertheless, in 1988, economists noted that some of Meadows’ prophecies were coming true.

But the key issue that particularly worried the Club of Rome at the time – overpopulation – does not seem to threaten civilization. The UN predicts that there will be about 10.4 billion people on the planet in the 2080s, after which growth will stop.

More recent forecasts

There are more recent scientific predictions of the apocalypse. In 2015, researchers from the Swedish Global Challenges Foundation, in collaboration with the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, released a report that described the 12 most likely global risks over the next 100 years.

Threats were assessed based on the study of specialized scientific literature and the priorities of those organizations that should stop them. We came to the following conclusions.

The probability of the destruction of humanity by artificial intelligence is the highest, ten percent. AI may strive for self-development and consumption of the maximum amount of resources, and it is possible that it will consider people an obstacle along the way.

And humanity, most likely, will not have the tools to control the supermind. On the other hand, if AI doesn’t get out of control, it will solve most of our other existential problems.

The chances of nuclear Armageddon are one in twenty. The same number of fatal pandemics (before covid was still five years old), fatal climate change (though not in one, but in two centuries) and so far unknown global threats.

The possibility of an apocalypse due to synthetic biology (primarily the spread of an artificial pathogen) is one percent. Slightly less likely to die after the invention of superweapons with the help of nanotechnology and ecological collapse.

The global catastrophe due to the fall of a meteorite is one hundredth of a percent, due to the eruption of a super volcano – two thousandths.

What is natural is not without extinction

Of all the animal species that existed on Earth , more than 99 percent died out – for natural reasons.

Although there are anthropogenic existential risks for Homo sapiens, our end is likely to come as a result of natural events – changing environmental conditions, an evolutionary race, a volcanic eruption, or a meteorite impact. The probability of this in 2019 was calculated by scientists from Oxford.

Mankind is about 200 thousand years old. Other species of hominins (such as Homo erectus and Homo habilis) have lived, according to various estimates, from 620 to 970 thousand years.

Mass extinctions occurred about once every 100 million years, large-scale volcanic eruptions – 20-30 million, collisions of the Earth with a large celestial body – 15 million.

Based on this, they calculated that the chances of the disappearance of mankind in the near future are lower than one in 14 thousand. And most likely, even less – one in 87 thousand. And this is, as the authors of the calculations put it, “conservative estimates”.

Note that all such works do not take into account other space hazards. For example, gamma-ray bursts are large-scale energy releases that can instantly incinerate our planet.

It’s a pity for zebras, there are no people

Another team of scientists from Oxford in the same 2019 found out that the death of all mankind does not bother people so much.

The participants in the experiment (two and a half thousand citizens of the USA and Great Britain ) were asked to answer the question, which is worse – the complete disappearance of the Homo sapiens population for one reason or another, or the death of 80 percent. Most pointed to the second option.

“That is, they do not consider the extinction of mankind unequivocally bad,” the authors of the work say.
This was explained by the fact that people thought about survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It is noteworthy that when answering the same question, but regarding zebras, the choice was the opposite.

At the same time, respondents assessed the complete extinction of our species as something exceptionally bad when the conditions of the assignment changed: it was said that the twenty percent who survived the global cataclysm would live “better than today, in every conceivable way.”

Unlike alarmist stories in the media, modern scientific forecasts do not imply the imminent death of mankind. But scientists do not promise a global improvement in life in the foreseeable future.


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